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  • We Are Hibernian FC - Part Two

    In his second installment, hibstorian John Campbell continues his look back at the beginnings of Hibernian Football Club.

    Hibernian Football Club was officially launched on 6 August 1875 whereupon Father Hannan was elected both Manager and Life President. At that point Father Hannan presented the Club with a set of strips which were white with green trim and bore a harp on the breast. At the same time, Michael Whelahan was elected as the first Captain of the Club, a proud moment for both himself and his family.

    Michael’s elder sister Marie was soon to marry Andrew Stanton, another Irish immigrant and so began a long association for the Stanton family which endured down the years and saw their great great great grandson Patrick Gordon Stanton become a Club legend and Captain of Hibernian in its Centenary year.

    Membership Fees were discussed and agreed at one shilling (5p) and a monthly subscription of sixpence (2½p) with the venture proving so popular that the Club was overwhelmed with applications to join and so it started off with some money in the bank but perhaps more importantly a large and very dedicated support.

    From such encouraging beginnings the Club was soon to find that their creation did not meet with universal approval in the growing world of football in Scotland. Considered by many to be a rough and tumble group of Irish labourers, the opposition were none too keen to take this bunch of upstart immigrants on and there was to follow a long and hard fight to establish the right of Hibernian Football Club to be able to compete in any organised competition.

    This initial setback did not deter the team which trained regularly and swore an oath to abstain from the consumption of alcohol. Holyrood Park was their chosen outside training ground and when the weather turned bad they moved into the St. Mary’s Street halls. Only the recent creation of the wonderful training centre in Ormiston brought to an end Hibernian’s use of public places to train.

    A factor worthy of mention regarding the time at which the Club was founded is that Membership was restricted to practising Catholics, a move which nowadays would rightly lead to strong accusations of sectarianism. What must be borne in mind, however, is the reason why such a decision was taken. In order to ensure no bad influences in the Club, non practising Catholics were barred from joining and such was the ill feeling towards Hibernian and Little Ireland from the remainder of Edinburgh that no-one else wanted to join them anyway!

    Indeed, Hibernian was to be the victim of sectarian practise rather than the perpetrator as the Edinburgh FA, which the Club had to join before it could participate in any competitions, endorsed the response given by the SFA to the Club’s application for membership. The SFA dismissed the application with the words “We are catering for Scotsmen, not Irishmen” Once again the people of Little Ireland were cruelly reminded that their presence in the City of Edinburgh and indeed Scotland was not at all welcome and yet they had done nothing to warrant this apparent hatred.

    In background to the ‘politics’ being played out by the official bodies, Michael Whelahan and his team continued to hold practise matches at the Meadows and things got so bad that they had to take with them squads of bodyguards to repel the attacks from non-Catholic gangs who sought to remove the Irish upstarts from the playing fields. Those squads soon formed a love for watching the Hibernian play and were effectively the first supporters of the Club!

    Despite an instruction from the Edinburgh Football Association (EFA) to their members, barring them from playing against the Irish, Heart of Midlothian took it upon themselves to defy that ban and agreed to play Hibernian on Christmas Day in 1875. This was Hibernian’s first ever truly competitive match and it is ironic that their rivals were to be Hearts, the Club which was to become its greatest rival over all of the years that followed.

    Sadly, Hibernian lost that game by a single goal but in itself that was not such a surprise because this was their first ‘real’ game against a Club which had been going for a year and which still had a strong influence from the former St Andrews contingent who had been playing for longer still before their ‘takeover’ by Hearts. Having seen Hearts openly defy the EFA, Hanover sent a second eleven team along to play Hibs at the Meadows and the Irishmen managed a creditable goalless draw.

    The officials at the EFA were apoplectic about this outrageous disobedience from two member Clubs and issued a stern warning that any future involvement with games against Hibernian would result in strong punishment for the Clubs involved. In itself this may have discouraged lesser men from trying to get a Club formally recognised and accepted but not so Father Hannan and Michael Whelahan who were made of sterner stuff and spent many long months canvassing support from local Clubs. The coup de grace came when one Frank Watt, a forward thinking official of the EFA, joined the fight to have Hibernian accepted. He was a visionary, who could see that the inclusion of such a well run Club with enormous support could only be good for the game of football and he argued fiercely in favour of Hibernian being allowed to join the EFA when they next applied. His efforts were successful and another hurdle was overcome in the fledgling Hibernian’s life.

    What happened next might be considered by some to have a familiar ring to it. The SFA was approached, not just by Hibernian but by other Edinburgh Clubs and the EFA, seeking permission for the men from Little Ireland to join the National Association but chose to ignore those pleas. The games governing body was paying no heed to the wishes of some of its members and refused to consider that a team of Irishmen could add anything of value to the game in Scotland. How wrong they were and how that decision would come back to haunt them.

    Unable to play in national competitions, Hibernian had to settle for games organised under the auspices of the EFA and got off to a good start by winning a friendly match against a very strong Hanover side by the only goal of the game. Behind the scenes Father Hannan was gathering support from Clubs throughout the country in his bid to have Hibernian affiliated to the SFA and under increasing pressure that body finally relented and allowed the Irishmen to join but in an almost petulant last protest they barred them from playing in that season’s Scottish Cup. Undeterred, Father Hannan set about ensuring his Club was going to be more than ready for future competition and his success in getting the establishment to accept Hibernian into its fold was largely down to his ability to win over those officials in charge at other Clubs with his obvious enthusiasm for the game and his utter devotion to Hibernian and its members.

    Over the years, Hibernian like most Clubs have fallen victim at crucial times to what have been widely reported and accepted as poor refereeing decisions and their first foray into the EFA Cup got them off to a flying start in that regard. Goals disallowed and a late equaliser chalked off when a fan of the opposing team kicked the ball back into play after it had entered the goal, thereby allowing the referee to disallow it, resulted in a formal protest to the EFA. It was defeated on the grounds that “the referee’s decision is always final.” Little changes and although modern day technology allows the review of certain decisions, even now they are rarely overturned!

    In the months that followed, Hibernian played a succession of friendlies with mixed results but one deserves special recognition as it involved the first win over Heart of Midlothian. It was late February 1877 and Hearts had actually folded and reformed, as mentioned earlier, using the majority of the players who were once known as St. Andrews. The Irishmen won 1 – 0 in a game played at the Meadows and repeated that feat in April with the same scoreline. Both of those games, like most played by EFA Clubs, took place at the Meadows and the large number of Hibernian fans were oft criticised for encroaching onto the field of play when events took a turn which they disliked. Strong words from Father Hannan ensured that the fans were on their best behaviour for the majority of the time but it triggered the thought in Father Hannan’s mind that perhaps a new playing area should be sought out.

    The new playing surface was not identified quickly enough to prevent the Irishmen from opening the 1877/78 season with a victory over Hanover in the first round of the EFA Cup. Just seven days later another step forward in the history of Hibernian saw them play their first ever Scottish Cup tie and to add spice to the occasion their opponents were Heart of Midlothian. The greens won 2 – 1 but there was trouble after the match ended when the Hibs fans in what was a huge crowd exceeding one thousand people, were attacked by outraged Hearts followers, unhappy at their side’s defeat by the ‘uncouth Irish’ This Cup defeat, plus the early example of football hooliganism saw those who ran the Heart of Midlothian Football Club turn against their City neighbours and go on for some years to try and put Hibernian out of the game both locally and nationally.

    Late October 1877 saw another milestone reached for Hibernian when Michael Whelahan’s great friends Malachy Byrne and Frank Rourke were sensationally selected to represent an EFA side in a friendly against the mighty Queens Park FC. This was surely a step in the right direction by the people of Edinburgh in accepting these Irishmen as worthy of representing their City in such a prestigious match.

    The inaugural Scottish Cup run was going well and first Hanover in the second round and Swifts in the third fell to a good Hibernian side. By way of preparing for the challenge of the next round, Hibernian travelled to the west to play their first ever away game, the opponents being Arthurlie. Word of the fixture at Barrhead had reached the ears of the large Irish population in Glasgow and significant numbers turned out to watch the ‘Irishmen from Edinburgh’ perform well enough although losing 2 – 0 to a strong side.

    The fourth round of the Scottish Cup saw Hibernian return to Glasgow and defeat Thornliebank 2 – 1 in a tough tie but that was not the end of the matter as the opposition protested to the SFA that they would have drawn had an offside goal been allowed to stand. Father Hannan felt confident the appeal would fail as after all, had the SFA not told Hibernian the previous year that “the referee’s decision is always final.” Imagine his consternation then, when he heard that the appeal had been upheld and that a replay had been ordered. It was yet another measure of the soothing influence of Father Hannan when he managed to calm down his incensed players and supporters and have them focus instead on the replay which was to be played at Hibernian’s newly found home at Mayfield Park, Newington which was built on a slope! It finished 2 – 2 and the SFA decided both teams should progress to the next round!

    Just two days from the end of an eventful 1877, Hibernian travelled to Glasgow in the fifth round of the Cup but lost to Glasgow Southern, despite a large turn out of Glasgow Irishmen to cheer them on. Things were still going well in the EFA Cup, however, and a Semi Final win over Thistle took the Irishmen into a Final against Heart of Midlothian.

    Astonishingly, this Final had to be replayed four times after the original had ended all square and the matches took place over a period of several months, partly due to severe winter weather but also partly due to the ill feeling between both Clubs and their supporters. In that first game there were two goals disallowed for Hibernian and so it ended goalless and the EFA ordered that if the teams were level at the end of that replay, extra time should be played. The EFA must have had a premonition because at the end of normal time in the replay it was 1 – 1 but Hearts’ Captain Tom Purdie astonishingly refused to play the extra time as he could see his men were exhausted whilst the Irishmen were raring to go. His ‘excuse’ was that he planned to protest the Hibernian goal scored in normal time. The EFA heard the appeal and threw it out but to the consternation of Messrs Hannan and Whelahan they ordered another replay, despite the fact that Hearts had blatantly disobeyed their instruction that extra time should be played.

    When that second replay started there were some 1200 people in attendance and many more were locked outside. A large core of the Hibernian support came from the navvies who lived and worked in Little Ireland and whom, sadly, were amongst the non-practising Catholics Father Hannan had worried might bring trouble to the Club. And so it was to be as Hibernian took the lead but had a second goal disallowed, whereupon Hearts went up the park and equalised. The obvious anguish and disapproval of those inside was heard by the fans that had been locked out and that group proceeded to knock down the gates to gain entry and swell the attendance to over 2000. Thankfully there was no real trouble and the game had no more goals so yet another replay was required.

    Back in Little Ireland, Father Hannan met with Michael Whelahan and Malachy Byrne to discuss what they could do, if anything, to encourage the unruly element in the support to behave itself but given these fans were not members of the CYMS or of Hibernian he was reduced to an appeal from the pulpit which, sadly, fell on deaf ears as these fans were now totally devoted to watching their favourites and had vowed to follow them wherever they might play.

    The EFA decided to allow a gap of several weeks to elapse before asking the teams to play again as they too wanted tempers to cool. In that interim period the Club won its first ever trophy when the Second XI won their EFA Cup and the trophy was paraded through Little Ireland before being set on display at the St. Mary’s Street halls. Finally, in early April the EFA invited Hibernian and Heart of Midlothian to meet again to try and establish a winner in their Cup competition. Hearts went a goal up but the Irishmen stormed back and gained a worthy equaliser. Extra time was played but no more goals were scored and so another replay was necessary – the fourth.

    The EFA was making a fortune in gate receipts and fully supported by Hibernian, to whom charitable causes were most important, they donated the takings from the final replay to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. This gesture by Hibernian was significant as they went on in years to come to make many charitable contributions to worthy causes throughout Scotland.

    The game itself received wide publicity in the Edinburgh Press but sadly for all the wrong reasons as following a Hearts victory their Captain, Tom Purdie, refused to shake hands with Michael Whelahan and although the gentle Irishman did not react in any way to the snub it was witnessed by some of the ‘harder core’ amongst the Hibs support and Purdie had to flee the ground in his carriage which was chased through the streets by the angry fans and although Purdie himself escaped, his carriage was subsequently wrecked.

    In reporting the incident the press chose to dwell on the unsavoury part and totally ignored Whelahan’s gentlemanly response. They also ignored the fact that Father Hannan publicly condemned the behaviour as bringing Hibernian into disrepute. This conduct by the ‘establishment’ merely served to galvanise the Hibernian men still further in their determination to make their mark on the pitch rather than off it.

    The ground at Mayfield had only ever been a temporary home and in September 1878 Hibs moved to their new home at Powderhall where they enjoyed rapid progress through the early rounds of the Scottish Cup, the EFA Cup and the EFA Second XI Cup. It was at Powderhall that Hibernian began to build up a series of ‘first in football’ events when they played an Edinburgh Select under floodlights and ran out 3 – 0 winners in a match played in appalling conditions.

    The Hibernian support was becoming famous for both its noise and its number and you could be sure that wherever Hibernian played the Irish would follow. Successive wins over University and Rob Roy took Hibs to a fifth round home tie against a much fancied Helensburgh side at Powderhall but astonishingly the visitors refused to play even though they had already changed for the match. They were not, however, expelled from the competition as the SFA ordered a replay should take place which was an odd decision even if it was only because the first match had not taken place so a replay was not technically possible.

    The New Year celebrations which saw out 1878 and heralded in 1879 in Little Ireland were much as you would expect with much celebration by the singing of Irish songs and the consumption of alcohol but Father Hannan, along with his close friends Michael Whelahan and Malachy Byrne kept clear heads knowing the challenges which lay ahead for the fledgling Hibernian.

    Horrendous winter weather meant that it was February before Hibernian played their first games of the year and the lay off did not seem to affect the team as it beat Brunswick in successive weeks in first the Edinburgh FA President’s Trophy and then the Semi Final of the EFA Cup. In that same month the Second XI won their EFA Cup for the second year in succession and it was good news even then that younger players were ready, willing and able to step in if required in the first team.

    The ‘big’ team then had its own chance for glory when it once again met Hearts in the Final of the EFA Cup. Somehow, presumably due to injury or unavailability of the jersey holder, Michael Whelahan ended up playing in goal for Hibernian and had a fine game. The match finished 1 – 1 but the Hearts goal was hotly disputed and when allowed to stand prompted a pitch invasion by the irate ‘hard core’ Hibs fans who set about the Hearts players. Only when Whelahan and his team mates formed a human barrier around the Hearts Captain Tom Purdie, a particular target after his behaviour at the previous final, was order restored. Poor Father Hannan was devastated at the behaviour of the Irish and took it upon himself to write a letter of apology to Purdie, which was never acknowledged by the Hearts man.

    Before the replay could take place Hibernian tumbled out of the Scottish Cup in controversial circumstances when what looked like a match winning goal against Helensburgh was first awarded and then, after rigorous complaint by the visitors to the referee was then disallowed. Helensburgh went on to win the game 2 – 1 and although Father Hannan considered a protest to the SFA neither he nor Michael Whelahan felt they would get a fair hearing, going on previous experience.

    And so the day of the replay against Hearts came along and the tie took place at Union Park, Corstorphine with a huge travelling Hibernian support present. Showing both tactical genius and great skill, Michael Whelahan decided to play as a forward and scored one of the two Hibernian goals which won the Club its first major trophy. No violent behaviour was evident this time with the Hibernian support carrying their heroes from the park high on their shoulders whilst loudly cheering and celebrating.
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